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The performance of a team or group is often influenced, if not determined, by its members’ roles.
We can start our analysis of member roles with the work of Benne and Sheats (1948). They focused on studying small discussion groups that engaged in problem-solving activities. From their observations they proposed three distinct types of roles: task, building and maintenance, and self-centered. Task rolesIdentified by facilitating and co-coordinating behaviors such as suggesting new ideas or ways of solving problems. were identified by facilitating and co-coordinating behaviors such as suggesting new ideas or ways of solving problems. Building and maintenance rolesInvolves encouragement, including praise, statements of agreement, or acceptance of others and their contributions nonverbally or verbally. involved encouragement, including praise, statements of agreement, or acceptance of others and their contributions nonverbally or verbally. Self-centered rolesInvolves ego-centric behaviors that call attention to the individual, not the group, and distract or disrupt the group dynamic. involved ego-centric behaviors that call attention to the individual, not the group, and distract or disrupt the group dynamic.
Table 4.1 Group Roles
|Group Task Roles||
Coordinator: facilitates order and progress
Evaluator-critic: analyzes suggestions for strengths and weaknesses
Orienter: focuses on group progress, recaps discussions
Recorder: takes notes on the group discussions, important decisions, and commitments to action
|Group Building and Maintenance Roles||
Supporter: Encourages everyone, making sure they have what they need to get the job done
Harmonizer: Helps manage conflict within the group, facilitating common ground, helping define terms, and contributing to consensus
Tension-releaser: Uses humor and light-hearted remarks, as well as nonverbal demonstrations (brings a plate of cookies to the group), to reduce tensions and work-related stress
Compromiser: Focuses on common ground, common points of agreement, and helps formulate an action plan that brings everyone together towards a common goal, task, or activity
Standard Setter: Sets the standard for conduct and helps influence the behavior of group members
Aggressor: Belittles other group members
Block: Frequently raises objections
Deserter: Abandons group or is very unreliable
Dominator: Demand control and attention
Recognition-seeker: Frequently seeks praise
Confessor: Uses the group to discuss personal problems
Joker or Clown: Frequent use of distracting humor, often attention-seeking behavior.
Bales (1950) built on their research and analyzed interaction from two categorical perspectives: task-orientation and socio-emotional. Belbin’s (1981) work on successful teams focused on the number of team members in a group and their respective roles. Imagine a baseball team, with each distinct team member with a clearly defined role and territory. Someone guards first base, and someone covers left field. Each person has both a role and a personality. The role, according to Belbin, was imposed. The team manager would assign a team member, or player in our example, to a position. Some people place first base better than others. Personality traits, talents, and relative skills are relatively stable over time (Pervin, 1989), and it was a challenge to match the best player to the most appropriate role. Get the combinations right across the whole team and you have a serious contender for the World Series. Get the combinations wrong and the manager will be looking for a job in short order.
Again the emphasis in this area of inquiry was effectiveness of teams. It is all about the win, or the progress, or the degree of completion. This line of investigation does not explore what it means to be a healthy family, or a productive community, though each type of group is related to this discussion.
Belbin (1981, 1983) used a Self Perception Inventory that consists of seven sections to assess which group member would be best for his nine group roles:
Table 4.2 Belbin’s Role Characteristics
|1||Plant (PL)||Creative, imaginative, unorthodox. Solves difficult tasks and problems.|
|2||Resource Investigator (RI)||Extrovert, enthusiastic, communicative. Develops contacts, networks, and explores opportunities.|
|3||Co-Coordinator||Mature, confident, effective chairperson. Promotes decision-making, delegates, and clarifies goals.|
|4||Shaper (SH)||Challenging, dynamic, thrives on pressure. The drive and courage to overcome obstacles.|
|5||Monitor Evaluator (ME)||Sober, strategic, and discerning. Makes accurate judgments. Perceives several options.|
|6||Team Worker (TW)||Cooperative, perceptive, mild, and diplomatic. Avoids tension, listens, a consensus builder|
|7||Implementer (IMP)||Reliable, disciplined, and efficient. Turns abstract ideas into practical actions|
|8||Completer-Finisher (CF)||Anxious, detail-oriented, and conscientious. Searches out errors and omissions. Delivers on time.|
|9||Specialist (SP)||Dedicated, self-motivated, and single-minded. Provides specific knowledge or skills|
If someone in your group always makes everyone laugh, that can be a distinct asset when the news is less than positive. At times when you have to get work done, however, the class clown may become a distraction. Notions of positive and negative will often depend on the context when discussing groups. Table 4.3 "Positive Roles" and Table 4.4 "Negative Roles" list both positive and negative roles people sometimes play in a group setting.Beene, K., & Sheats, P. (1948). Functional roles of group members. Journal of Social Issues, 37, 41–49.,McLean, S. (2005). The basics of interpersonal communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Table 4.3 Positive RolesBeene, K., & Sheats, P. (1948). Functional roles of group members. Journal of Social Issues, 37, 41–49.,McLean, S. (2005). The basics of interpersonal communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
|Initiator—Coordinator||Suggests new ideas or new ways of looking at the problem|
|Elaborator||Builds on ideas and provides examples|
|Coordinator||Brings ideas, information, and suggestions together|
|Evaluator-Critic||Evaluates ideas and provides constructive criticism|
|Recorder||Records ideas, examples, suggestions, and critiques|
Table 4.4 Negative RolesBeene, K., & Sheats, P. (1948). Functional roles of group members. Journal of Social Issues, 37, 41–49.,McLean, S. (2005). The basics of interpersonal communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
|Dominator||Dominates discussion, not allowing others to take their turn|
|Recognition Seeker||Relates discussion to their accomplishments, seeks attention|
|Special-Interest Pleader||Relates discussion to special interest or personal agenda|
|Blocker||Blocks attempts at consensus consistently|
|Joker or Clown||Seeks attention through humor and distracts group members|
Now that we’ve examined a classical view of positive and negative group member roles, let’s examine another perspective. While some personality traits and behaviors may negatively influence groups, some are positive or negative depending on the context.
Just as the class clown can have a positive effect in lifting spirits or a negative effect in distracting members, so a dominator may be exactly what is needed for quick action. An emergency physician doesn’t have time to ask all the group members in the emergency unit how they feel about a course of action; instead, a self-directed approach based on training and experience may be necessary. In contrast, the pastor of a church may have ample opportunity to ask members of the congregation their opinions about a change in the format of Sunday services; in this situation, the role of coordinator or elaborator is more appropriate than that of dominator.
The group is together because they have a purpose or goal, and normally they are capable of more than any one individual member could be on their own, so it would be inefficient to hinder that progress. But a blocker, who cuts off collaboration, does just that. If a group member interrupts another and presents a viewpoint or information that suggests a different course of action, the point may be well taken and serve the collaborative process. If that same group member repeatedly engages in blocking behavior, then the behavior becomes a problem. A skilled communicator will learn to recognize the difference, even when positive and negative aren’t completely clear.